Wednesday 16 January 2019

Separating reality from 'online life' can provoke anxiety in young people - leading psychologist

Minister for Education Richard Bruton issued a circular today
Minister for Education Richard Bruton issued a circular today

Rachel Farrell

Separating reality from the internet can potentially provoke anxiety in young people, according to a senior clinical psychologist.

Dr. Amy Watchorn from Saint John of God’s Hospital explained that information overload is one of the causes of anxiety in teenagers today.

"This idea that younger people who have grown up with this have two lives in a way, a real life in the physical world and an online life that is equally important to them. For them, to be separate from that is anxiety provoking," she said on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny show this morning.

"This is something that is still playing out and we need to be open minded about the fact that for people who are younger, this is quite the normality for them."

A total of 1 in 6 people experience a mental health problem like anxiety every year, according to Mental Health Ireland. In the UK, Childline has seen a 25pc increase with 258 children below the age of 18 receiving counselling for anxiety in the last year.

In a world where it seems we can never switch off, Dr.Watchorn said she believes that our brains cannot currently cope with this information overload.

"Our brains were designed so we would take in a single source of information at a time, so we were focused on one thing at a time. Whereas now, what we’re living in is a world of multiple screens, multitasking and dividing our attention on a constant basis," she said.

"Whether or not we can adapt to that is still up for debate. Our brains probably won’t change but how we respond to the way information is presented we can adapt to."

Dr. Watchorn believes there is a barrier between older and younger generations when it comes to technology and the internet.

"There is this digital divide between people who have grown up with the internet and social media, who are known as digital natives, and those who came into it after it was created, known as immigrants.

"For someone who was there before the advent of the internet, they see it as something useful for looking up different things and they can step away from it. They don’t understand how someone who grew up with this sees it as normal to have this huge online life."

Saint John of God’s Hospital are hosting a ‘Minding the Mind’ free lecture series this month, with ‘Anxiety in an Age of Information Overload’ taking place on Monday 16th April.

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